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Swing Season Prep – Choosing The Right Rod, Reel, & Line

“When the day get shorter, darker and colder, most anglers lament even getting out of their warm beds…if you are a swinger, the coffee is brewing and you are more then pumped to get on the road and step into a run.

Dries flies aren’t really coming off, the hopper-dropper crowds have all but vanished and the fair weather anglers are at home prepping for a day of running errands and ambling around Home Depot killing time.

There is something about swinging flies.

Long rods, a pocket full of flies and sink tips.

Deep glassy runs, foggy eyes and cold toes.

It’s an exercise in patience and consistency, (and some kind of dark attitude to deal with the long hours and sparse hook-ups).

Strip, strip, strip, cast. Take a step. Put your hand in the fleece liner.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Photo: Lance Nelson

Maybe you’ll push that steelhead far enough back into the pool, piss it off enough for a strike.

Maybe you’ll cover enough water and hit that big trout laying low, get a strike on the dangle.

The hours and days drag on. You over think the the purples, blues and blacks of your flies. Maybe you switch out tips. The desire to move spots looms heavy.

Those with a weaker constitution may say, “F**K it,” and go out hide out in a nearby dive bar or nap in the truck.

Others considering tossing their two-handed rod into the trash and getting out the spoon rod.

More time to stand and think, the motions become repetitive, you start playing with different anchor points.

You start to drift off….

and then…..a thump…..”

Nick Conklin – Temple Fork Outfitters Fly Fishing Product Category Manager

Photo: Lance Nelson

 

If you’re reading this, and are interested in learning more about two-handed fly fishing, you’re in luck. Below is a basic breakdown of swing seasons, as well as rod/reel recommendations. Be on the lookout for more blogs and posts on swing season, but this should help you get started if you’re new to this type of fishing, and curious about what rod or reel to get.

 

LATE SUMMER/FALL STEELHEAD

When swinging flies later in the summer, before the rains come and the days become cold and short, a lighter shorter rod can be a lot of fun.

The 12-foot, 6-weight LK Legacy two-handed rod is perfect set-up weather your are fishing scandi floating lines and more classic patterns, or throwing small to medium intruders and weighted flies. This rod will also handle multi-density tips, from T-8 to T-11. The faster, stiffer road allows for smooth line pick-up and repositioning.

Rod: 6120-4 LK

Reel: BVK SD 3.5

Line: Scandi 400-440, Skagit 425-475.

The LK Legacy TH Photo: Oliver Sutro
BVK-SD reels paired with the LK Legacy TH – Photo: Nick Conklin

WINTER STEELHEAD

When picking a good winter setup I think it’s important to find a rod that will fit the size and type of water you are fishing. Swinging a deep slow run from the shore, or from a boat? On a wide, sweeping river? Or fishing a tight quarters coastal river? For winter fish you’ll typically be fishing medium-to-large size intruders and sink tips up to 15-feet long.

When fishing these heavier and thick diameter skagit heads and tips, most casters will find a more deeper loading rod beneficial and easier to handle during long days. Two rod lengths I always carry are a shorter, 11 to 11’6” rod and something longer and heavier, ideally a 12 or 13’6” 8-weight.

The Axiom II Switch is a great option not just for small to medium water, but also for those who want to “switch,” techniques and have the ability to go from heads and swinging flies to an indicator or chuck- and-duck system.

The 13-foot, Pro II TH model is great for skagit heads and tips, and due to is medium-fast action it smoothly loads and unloads

Axiom ll Switch – Photo: Lance Nelson
The Pro ll TH – Photo: Lance Nelson
The Power Reel – Photo: Lance Nelson

Small to medium waters, coastal fishing:

Rod: 08 11 0 4 Axiom II Switch

Reel: BVK SD III

Line: 525 Skagit head, 10-feet of T-11 sink tip.

 

Medium to large water:

Rod: 078 13 0 4 Pro II TH

Reel: Power III

Line: 550 multi-density Skagit head, 10-feet of T-11 sink tip.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TROUT SPEY

When it’s time to put away the dry fly rods and the big foamy terrestrials have all but been gnawed off the hook trout anglers should be eagerly looking for a longer lighter rods to swing for trout.

Having a long and light two-hander can be a lot of fun, and teach an angler a lot about seasonal holding patterns on their local trout water.

I typically like to have two, (or one rod with two line set-ups) when attacking the “trout spey,” or “micro spey,” approach. One rod will be for swinging soft hackles and little nymphs in skinny water. The second rig will be for streamers and heavier flies. On this 3/4-weight set-up, I’ll also swing a double woolly bugger set-up to give the appearance of baitfish “chasing,” each other.

Photo: Lance Nelson

Soft hackles and light flies:

Rod: 023 11 0 4 Pro II TH, (2/3-weight, 11-foot Pro II TH)

Reel: NXT BLK III

Line: 210-240 grain scandi head. 5 to 8-feet intermediate tip, or long tapered leader.

Small to medium streamers and multi-woolly bugger rigs

Rod: 034 11 0 4 Pro II TH, (3/4-weight, 11-foot, Pro II TH)

Reel: NXT BLK III

Line: 270-grain, skagit head, (13 to 15 feet long). Short sink-tip, (T-8) or a polyleader, from five to 10-feet long.

 

Two-handed Techniques for Fall Salmon, Steelhead

While swinging flies with two-handed rods the typical approach is a consistent, level swing through a long run. Repetitively sweeping the fly across the nose of a salmon or steelhead and pushing them farther back into the tail-out of the pool is usually the best chance to elicit an anger strike.

However, there are times that taking a more active approach, similar to that of stripping streamers, can bring success.

Never more is this the case when fishing around the Great Lakes, where steelhead, salmon and brown trout can tend to hunker down in shorter runs. Due to smaller, deeper pools, which drop off and rise in more dramatic distances than the broader rivers in the West, anglers in the Great Lakes, need to be a bit more creative with their swung-fly approach.

Here are a few methods worth a try next time a traditional slow-and-steady swing doesn’t garner attention, (or you have already worked through the run with a traditional cast, step, and swing pattern).

The Pop

After a downstream cast, subtly pop, (or jig down) the tip of a rod, forcing the fly to sink and pop up again.

This can mimic an injured or disoriented baitfish. This can also help keep the fly from snagging on downed trees common during this time of your on GL rivers.

This technique can be fished at varying depths, (more reason to buy extra sink-tips!) and also various sections of the run. Similar to a nymphing approach, start close and shallow, and work it farther out as you make your way down river. This can also be productive in slower portions of the river where you can’t rely upon the current to make the fly move.

The Drop In

As mentioned above, early fall storms can cause some log jams great for holding big fish. This can make it tricky to work a fly through in a straight-line swing.

Make an upstream cast, when the fly lands, throw an upstream mend to give the fly time to sink under the jam. Due to the different current speeds in the water column, you can really play around with different fly speeds and may be the key to hooking a fish in a ‘logged’ up run. This will take some practice in more congested water, but likely will be something most anglers avoid because they are scared to lose flies.

Rip and Runs

When all else fails when working through a run, I like to walk down to the end of the pool, line-up almost 180 degrees from the head of it and make a cast straight ahead. Traditionalists may cry blasphemy, but making a straight-line cast forward and stripping a fly right through the middle of the run can present a view of the fly fish rarely see. This also presents a very active, aggressive fly that would be hard for a fish not to attack. Imagine sitting in your living room and someone drags a 20-ounce rib-eye right through the middle of it? Would be hard to not have a reaction. right?

Ideally best to save this approach till the end of your time in the pool, and “run,” on to the next one as if nothing strikes from the above techniques, there are probably no interested players. Time to move on to the next section of the river.

Looking for a quality two-handed rod? One of the top two-handers on the market is the Axiom II Switch, TFO’s award-winning stick that has drawn rave reviews from Deneki.

Thoughts on our two-handed techniques for fall steelhead and salmon? Do you have other suggestions? Let us known on one of our social media pages.